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More Firefighting Air Tankers Coming

By Sharon Ko

Air tankers, used to battle wildfires, are on their way – adding to the outdated federal fleet. Resources are already spread thin this fire season. The U.S. Forest Service had 44 air tankers in its fleet several years ago; now, it’s down to 11 under contract, 10 of those have been around for 50 years.

Recently, President Obama signed a bill to speed a contract for more. But Oregon will not be seeing those new air tankers anytime soon. The Oregon Department of Forestry says instead there will be three helicopters available in Southern Oregon.

The first and smallest one arrived this week. It’s currently flying over Josephine County looking for lightning-caused fires. These helicopters are capable of carrying firefighters and water. ODF also has another fixed wing aircraft, cruising over forestlands in Jackson County right now.

A spokesman says they share resources with the U.S. Forest Service. If need be, they will utilize one of the new federal air tankers. But having exclusive contracts with closer states like California just makes more sense. ODF will have the helicopters till September. One air tanker is expected to arrive next week from Redmond, Oregon.